Self Parody, National Identity and the Canadian Culture Industry
What does it mean to be authentically Canadian in the time of Nickelback? Read this story in Somersault’s free pdf issue!
By Gareth Simpson (Gareth Simpson is a writer and humo(u)rist from Vancouver, British Columbia. He doesn’t really like Stephen Harper or Nickelback all that much, but he thinks Justin Bieber is okay. He has a Twitter and a Tumblr, but then again so does everyone else.)
It speaks volumes about the Canadian culture industry that the announcement of Chad Kroeger and Avril Lavigne’s engagement felt so momentous. Their engagement served as a tipping point into self-parody for the nation that gave the world Anne of Green Gables, Glenn Gould, and the genesis of Saturday Night Live. Fittingly, their relationship started on Canada Day, which the Nickelback frontman called “very cool.” The engagement was the subject of widespread mockery, most of it from Canadians racing to distance themselves from the pair. Lavigne and Kroeger (and Kroeger’s band Nickelback) have come to represent a certain unacknowledged tension within Canada. Many Canadians, particularly those in metropolitan hotbeds like Vancouver and Toronto, are embarrassed by bands like Nickelback and uncomfortable with their ubiquity. Despite well-publicized protests, the band has been an undeniable force, racking up more Juno Awards than Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell combined. The reason for this, despite the rush to disassociate, is that Nickelback really is Canada today. Their music is the soundtrack of a country that is no longer what it used to be, that has had its image retooled over the last six years by a right-wing economist whose most enduring cultural legacy has been his tendency to co-opt pianos and hammer out Beatles tunes like an awkward uncle at a family reunion.
In the middle of the twentieth century, as the United States was turning into a entertainment superpower, the Canadian government decided that they needed to enforce a certain degree of Canadian culture. They feared, for good reason, that if they didn’t ensure that content created by Canadians would actually reach its intended audience, their entire society would be subjugated by the cultural delights of their southern neighbor. Former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau famously compared Canada’s border with the United States to sleeping next to an elephant. “No matter how friendly or temperate the beast, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.”